Monday, May 13, 2013

How To Work Efficiently With Freelancers

Working with remote freelancers can be an incredibly tricky ordeal and sometimes a coordinator's nightmare.  

Even with online collaboration tools like Basecamp, Google Docs, Office, Dropbox, Skydrive and SharePoint, something is bound to slip through the cracks, and then the cracks get bigger.  Working with freelancers is like herding stray cats.  They all operate on their own time, in their own way, and when deadlines approach it can be very hard to get those strays in the corral.

Here’s what I’ve learned from our last two productions:

  1. Know what you want.  If you have a vision, you’ve got to be able to communicate it clearly.  Everyone interprets things differently, so the more precise and detailed you can be, the better your chance of seeing your vision come through properly.  Being clear and concise helps you understand what you want and helps others understand how to get there.
  2. Do the majority of the work up front.  It’s not enough to simply toss up a few notes and hope for the best.  When we outsourced some of our inbetween work, we made sure that our key frames and breakdowns were polished and readable and that model packs and drawing notes were put together in a neat package.  It saved us the headache of giving endless revision notes and having to answer repetitive questions.  We produced a solid 90% of the work up front for them.  Leave nothing to chance.  Doing the majority of the work up front can be time-consuming and a bit tedious, but it's that attention to detail that can make or break a project.  
  3. Use metrics to set up goals and deliverables.  We use our past experience on productions to measure how long it should take us to complete a project.  Using those metrics, we can calculate how long each process of our project will take and set an achievable deadline.  That gives the deadline an actual value for the freelancer.  If you don’t know how long something is supposed to take or when you need it, neither will your freelancers.
  4. Set expectations and clearly outline responsibility.  In our studio, we mostly use Skype and Basecamp to ask questions and share progress with each other.  When a freelancer comes on board we’d like them to do the same.  It’s not just about keeping tabs on people.  It lets them know we’re all in this together.  If they need to ask a question, they’ll know when we’re available and we can keep things moving quickly.  Likewise, we let them know what’s expected of them, and ourselves, so that we’re all on the same page.
  5. Be organized.  If you know where you are, it's easy to see where you’ve come from and where you’re going.  You don’t necessarily need a complicated system.  Sometimes the simpler the better.  But if things get out of control, you need to be able to find your way back.  We know where every single file is, how long each shot will be, how many drawings are needed, how many characters are in each shot, and what version of a scene is current.  Between all the emails, conversations, phone calls, and file sharing, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.  By knowing how to get back to your root, you can continue to groove smoothly.

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